Arms Full of Dreams, Trains on the Track
Letters to Loo, #5
A week or so ago, I told you, Loo, that I was going to use this writers’ retreat to dust off old dreams: great, ambitious imaginings that I have thrown aside. I reminded you of several big ones you probably remember, ones that we both know never materialized though I worked hard to birth them. They were ones I have said had been taken from me for lack of time, funding, and support, but I was wrong. No one, nothing killed those dreams. I did. Now, I must resurrect them or choose new ones.
I’ve learned that a dream can’t die unless and until I snuff it out, and that killing a dream takes time and practice. I’ve elevated it to an artform. It’s premeditated. My murders are conceived by listening to whisperers. Whispers debilitate me and make me decide a dream is the product of bad pizza or vain imaginings and I turn away.
“You know those demos you recorded that never landed anywhere?” they begin. “Ha! What a joke you are. A second rate singer. You got honorable mention in the talent show. Forget about it. You don’t have what it takes. Move along. Nothing to hear here.”
And, “Who do you think you are? You don’t belong in politics. People don’t want you leading them anywhere, making decisions about land use and police and fire or libraries. Or about National Parks, and food stamps, and health care. You’re no leader. Look at the people they elected. They got way more votes than you did. Admit it. Go home!”
And, “Whatever made you think you could come to Idaho and be taken seriously for your talent? Didn’t they already reject you in California? The people who work with you despise you. They don’t want you here. Shut up and listen to them. Your skills, your opinions, your dreams are no good here.”
And more recently, “You know they’re all looking down their noses at you, all the established writers. They just want to make money off of you. You can’t properly punctuate a sentence, you don’t have a list of publications as long as theirs. You can’t even write a memoir, for heaven’s sakes. They don’t like your posts on Facebook because frankly, they don’t read them. You’re an ok writer, you’re on the honorable mention list every year, but you’re not one of them. You have nothing to contribute. You’ll never be a literary darling.”
And then I came on this trip, Loo. Determined to get free at last. Writing. Dreaming. Open to whatever comes my way. What do I find? That before I even decide how to dream, the whispers have already started. It’s an accomplished group of women here. No one has meant to start the whispers, I have done that myself.
One woman here is married to a musician who has played with every major rock star I can name. Another represents composers and used to represent rock stars. Another has recently retired, has a beautiful story about her mother in law that she’s working on, and will be coming to live in England soon. They’re from L.A. and they’re friends with people whose names you would recognize. People whose names I recognize. And then we are joined by a woman from London.
She’s the real deal. Successful, attractive, smart, and funny. She’s written major films, including one about 5 Sudanese refugees who come to the United States, Kansas, that’s been seen by living (and dead) presidents. She was taken by a story and told it skillfully. She changed lives for the better like I want to do for Denis, Elly, Clerksen, Sophie, and so many others in Uganda. The whisperers are quick to use her to rebuff me because I have dreamed of changing their lives.
“How did you get your story heard?” I think I asked her. I was curious about the process but I’m not sure she understood my question. She talks of story telling technique. Her answer kick-starts the chorus.
“She thinks you’re trying to pitch her. She doesn’t want to be bothered. She’s not interested. Now, her story? That’s important. Interesting. No one cares about yours. Yours isn’t important.”
And then they cuss to make sure I’m kicked all the way to the curb. “Shut the fuck up, Teri, before you make a fool of yourself.”
I retreat to my room to lick self-inflicted wounds. In truth, she seems a lovely woman, one with whom I could probably be friends if we had enough time here. So, this morning I awake late and go to breakfast late, avoiding her. I write in my room and when I start writing I begin to talk these things through with you, Loo. I see that she’s an innocent bystander in all of this. It’s between me and myself. I am the villain for listening to these voices trying to keep me in check. So, I start evicting them. Replacing the whisperers with full-throated, affirming voices.
This morning at the breakfast table, one of my companions shared that she’d heard it said that if a train doesn’t stop at your station, it isn’t your train. None of the whisperer-targeted dreams have been my trains but that doesn’t mean there isn’t another one coming. I didn’t rocket to the top of the music charts the way my new friends’ friends have, but I will sing, even if it’s just karaoke at the annual Book Passages conference. I didn’t get elected 3 of the 4 times I ran, but who knows what else may be ahead? I don’t need to hear accolades from my colleagues to be a good enough writer. And I don’t need someone to tell me how to promote my stories or do it for me. Those trains are rumbling down the track, headed my way.
I’m afraid I warned you, Loo, that this trip would get deep. It has, but it’s all good. I am shaking free of old rusty chains. I think that if I turned around I’d see them lying discarded on the ground, but I’ve no interest in what‘s behind. I’m too busy filling my arms with dreams, Loo. New and old.